Find out Friday interview: What if Charles I had won the Civil War?

Credit Nottingham Trent University

Credit Nottingham Trent University

What would have happened if Charles had won the war?

There would have been several significant differences between the 1640s and ’50s that we are familiar with and a post-royalist victory Britain and Ireland, which I deal with in part below. Parliament would have been dissolved and a range of measures taken to pack a new parliament to ensure that it supported the king’s requests for money, which would have been more acute after a period of renewed war than they were in 1640. Leading parliamentarians would probably have been tried for treason and perhaps found guilty, executed and their estates forfeited to the crown, while lesser parliamentarians would have been imprisoned, fined and debarred from election to Parliament. The royalist victors would probably have constituted a large portion of the House of Commons and new peers would have been packed into the Lords, ensuring support for the king’s requests for money. Once this had been achieved the Westminster Parliament may well have gone back into hibernation until required. This might not have lasted too long, though, as there was a politically revolutionary Scotland to deal with and Ireland was not a settled matter either. Charles may have only lived into his fifties, as did his father and his eldest son, and so the reign of Charles II may have started later than 1660, but he might not have had to conclude the secret treaty of Dover in return for French cash: the rest of the Stuarts’ reigns would have happened as they did as Charles I would have shown no desire to or would not have been able to gain the support for any dramatic change in the anti-Catholic stance by Parliament and the general public, so James II would probably still have been deposed.

What key battles would Charles have had to win to regain control? The Battle of Edgehill maybe?

It would, of course, have been simpler for Charles to have won a crushing victory at Edgehill. At that point, the two field armies represented the chief fighting force of both sides and thus Parliament’s embryonic regional forces were incorporated in Essex’s army. After Edgehill, Parliament’s army became the teeth of the hydra and transformed into the basis of armies of Waller, Stamford, Brereton, Massey and others who won Parliament’s victories in 1643.

Thus after 1642, winning became much more difficult for both sides as the whole country was then militarised. Rather than specific battles which need to be won, it was more a question of campaigns. If the Marquis of Newcastle had completed control of the north both sides of the Pennines and Charles had captured Gloucester and defeated Essex at Newbury in 1643 then the war could have been won in 1643. The overwhelming failure came in 1644 when both the Marquis of Newcastle between January and April 1644 and Prince Rupert in July that year failed to defeat the Scots in the north: this probably made it harder if not impossible for Charles to win the war. There could have been surprise victories, the second battle of Newbury or Naseby for example, but these would have been far less possible.

What would have been the key turning points in the war?
If not Edgehill, then the defeat and destruction of the Scottish forces, which would have impacted on the political situation in Scotland.

What would have had to have changed for Charles to win the war?
His negotiating skills; the failure to appease the Scots in 1643 led to their taking sides with Parliament and the great resources and experience they brought into the war themselves, and those of the north of England, which their participation in the siege and capture of York and the Battle of Marston Moor enabled Parliament to access were incredibly important.

What if Charles had bribed the Governor of Hull for access to the armouries?
This may have been possible as the Hothams did change sides later. The thing about Hull is that not only was a great port through which to bring in resources, but in April 1642 it still had much of the armouries of the Tower of London within it – they had been shipped there for the Bishops’ Wars. However, Parliament would still have raised forces and perhaps depended upon arms imported through London from the continent to a greater degree.

What would have happened to Oliver Cromwell, the New Model Army and its supporters?
Again it depends upon when Charles won the war. If it was in the most likely period, ie before 1644, there would have been no New Model Army. Parliamentarian army leaders would probably have been tried or simply fined: but all of them, even Cromwell, would probably have been debarred from political life. Common soldiers would have been sent home, but they may have been open to prosecution for actions taken during the war in local courts.

Would there have been future revolts against Charles’ Rule?

Possibly, but not for some time as the leadership of the parliamentarians would have been defeated and removed from positions of influence. Scotland however would have remained untouched if the defeat of parliament had been pre-January 1644. For a time at least the Scottish political revolution might have remained in place. However defeat of parliamentarians in England and Wales would, no doubt, inspire anti-covenanters and royalists in Scotland to try and undermine this. It would be unlikely for some time anyway that even a victorious Charles would be able to persuade the English and Welsh to go to war against Scotland – he failed to win hearts and minds in 1639-1640.

Would the Divine Right of Kings continued? Would Charles now have complete power?

Certainly Charles’s understanding of Divine Right would hold sway for some time, but as many moderate royalists were close to the parliamentarian interpretation of this, it would still be moderated, unless an ultra-royalist parliament such as that which followed the Restoration was to be elected.


What would have been the religious response? (Charles was pro-catholic; many in England were Church of England and Anglican after Reformation)
Again this depends upon when the king won. In the early days of the war, it would have been relatively simple to reconstruct the Church of England as it was in 1640. Any later than 1644, it would have been just as difficult to put the lid on religious pluralism as it was after the Restoration, even if censorship had been reintroduced.

How would Ireland and Scotland have fared under the Charles’ continued kingship? Would he have turned his attention to a Scottish invasion? Would it have changed the conditions and environment of all the social classes?

As stated above there would be repercussions for Scotland even if the royalists were reluctant to go to war against them in the short term.

With regard to Ireland this is much harder. In the early stages of the war in England when the chances of a royalist victory were greater the Catholic Confederation of Kilkenny was in the driving seat. Charles would have had to work with the moderates in the confederation at a compromise which would have as its base the Graces, but must surely also include a re-examination of the status of the new (protestant) boroughs and the freedom of worship for Catholics. As the events of 1646-7 show there was a marked reluctance on the part of English and Welsh soldiers to go to war in Ireland. There would also be the difficult question of England’s relationship with Scotland to consider, as in Ulster it had been the Scots who bore the brunt of the fight against the confederation.

How would it have affected the likelihood of future revolutions in other nations?

It is unlikely that the American and French revolutions would have been prevented, but they would have had to search elsewhere for precedents such as calls for democratic rights and regicide, if Charles had won the war early enough.
However, the American colonies would likely be full of parliamentarian and radical refugees! This might even have sped up the drive to independence or inter-colonial war.

What would parliament’s new role have been? Would Charles have disbanded it or just remained sceptical of it? Would he have set up a new and different system?

There would have been no need to recreate a new system, Parliament would need to be managed more effectively: but the major pre-war oppositionists and their associates would not be in any parliament for years, if ever. As I said above, there may in England have been a personal rule, but perhaps the war in Ireland and the need to respond to the political challenge of Scotland might have meant it was briefer that 11 years this time.

In Scotland’s Parliament, the Estates now no longer needed the king’s permission to sit and may well have adopted the system of continuous parliaments especially which threatened by an aggressive royalist England.
In Ireland the Confederation’s General Assembly would have probably dissolved itself after an agreement with the king and a new Dublin parliament called to ratify any political settlement.

With taxation high, would the rest of England (outside of London) been able to develop economically?

Taxation would have been reduced as soon as the war was over – bearing in mind that dealing with Ireland and Scotland might require a higher level for a while. At the Restoration only the excise tax remained of the war along with republican taxes, and the royalist excise act would have become null and void as soon as Parliament’s excise ordinance ceased to have effect. It may be that the need to generate more income because of higher taxes may have stimulated the economy: only the defeated nations, Scotland and Ireland had very great economic problems post war.

Would we have regressed as a country without government or a parliament? Would there be different laws and legal procedures now? Would parliament have ever come returned and if so, when?

There would have been no major changes, and in the long term the succession of William and Mary would probably have come about, with all its changes to the relationship between king and parliament anyway. It is unlikely that even a royalist parliament would have given the king carte blanche financial independence.

Describe England in 1651 after a Charles victory. Just how different would it have been?

England may well have been on the verge of war, or just have come through one with Scotland. Thus taxation would still be high even if lower than during the Civil War. This would present problems as if the Scots had avoided defeat in England their army and military capacity would still be formidable and their financial resources drained by 1651 after over a decade of war would not, in this alternative world, have been depleted. Ireland may well have been a more settled state with a redress in the religious/political balance of power. Scotland would probably still be the politically modernised state that it was in 1642. The only challenges to the Kirk party came after defeats which may, in the alternative world, not have happened.

Without a Cromwell leadership, England could have not developed causing long term affects like no Empire, poorer performances in world wars and different relations with other countries. Do you agree with this?

There would have still been an empire as the sort of private enterprise which established a British hold on Canada was led by former royalists and thus might have happened earlier than the 1660s. There may have been less of an impact on the West Indies, however. Trade wars with the Dutch would have happened anyway: they did in the 1650s and ’60s under different regimes. Close relations with Louis XIV may have been strengthened and there could still have been British support for the French against the Spanish in the 1650s as happened under Cromwell as, of course, the queen was French.